Idle Introductions

Posted in From the Lab on September 3, 2008

By Noel deCordova

The chemical-spattered door opens, revealing a world of synergy and chaos... Failed combos and other experiments dangle from the rusty rafters...The mad scientist within laughs manically, bathed in the frothy glow of his latest creation...


Well, how's that for some clichéd openings? For the record, I am not a true mad scientist. An official degree for insane chemistry requires way, way more years of college to get through. Still, having a fake Mad Scientist I.D. is an absolute blast: I received three years of Mad Magazine, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on DVD, 32 Mad Libs books (all mad scientist themed), and mad cow disease. The latter two didn't turn out well in combination, as I forgot the difference between punctuation and predicate phrases too quickly to realize that neither is even in Mad Libs.

Craziness aside, welcome, visiting Johnnies! My name is Noel deCordova, and each Wednesday I will be bringing my latest test subjects up from the lab and into your combo-seeking presence. My goal is to make funky, offbeat decklists using reject rares or other nifty cards that tickle both my fancy and yours. Additionally, I will be relying on both my sense of humor to work through most of the awkward phases (now, for instance) and friendly reader feedback. In short, I intend to continue the kooky practices that were a mainstay in the House of Cards.

I've already written for this site twice (here and here) and on both occasions I was filling in for Chris Millar. However, in neither of those two articles did I explain who I am as a Magic player. Since I'm the full-time mad scientist 'round these parts now, I figure I should get that out of the way, especially before Shards of Alara previews next week. Sound like a plan?

Feel the Burn

Now, the majority of hardcore Johnnies that I've talked with and read about would say that blue is their favorite color in Magic. And why not? Blue provides endless ways to draw combo pieces, counter the ever annoying Aura Shards, and bounce problem permanents that threaten to disrupt a locked-down board. Heck, even Johnny, Combo Player is blue.

This may shock you (or bolt you, or incinerate you, or any other generic burn spell you), but me? I'm a red player at heart. One fateful summer afternoon, I was introduced to this wonderful game by the gargantuan Volcanic Dragon. The giant flaming lizard didn't beat around the bush in decimating my first opponent. Since then, red has still held the fondest of Magic memories for me. Ahhh... sweet nostalgia.

Volcanic Dragon

I shopped around for ways to officially get into the game (the Volcanic Dragon and I parted ways, as I was only borrowing someone's deck), and some kind soul who was quitting donated me most of his cards. Excited, I scanned them, searching for anything red or scaly. Instead, I stumbled upon an Unlimited Nightmare, and that was it. Black was officially my second favorite color. As I only had three Swamps at the time, it never finished any opponents, but I didn't much care. The art was astounding. There was a horse covered in flames, which would obviously hint at being a red card (to me, anyway), and yet it was black. Way cool.

Somehow the combination of the red and black colors, really neat art, and huge creatures molded my future preferences in Magic. Of course, as the story usually goes, I made a couple of dumb trades (a second Nightmare that I had ripped went to my friend Wes along with a Howl from Beyond and two Power Sinks for a Trained Orgg and a Vizzerdrix), spent some time as a Timmy before moving on (but not completely), and was tempted by the juicy offerings of Spike-dom (I considered selling every card I had for another Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero and lots of Rebels, since Masques block was in full swing) before settling in as the full-time Johnny I am today.

As for personal information, it's all there in my author photo. I'm relatively short with red hair. There. That's all the personal information you get. And the first person to crack a Dexter's Lab joke gets a taste of my Ultra Brussels Sprouts With Mayo Force Feeder 5000. Literally.

Believe in the Idle

Eventide still has a lot of unexplored cards and potential deck ideas to cover. However, due to a massive case of nostalgia overload, my thoughts need to get a lot idler if I want any sleep tonight. Like a bolt from the blue (or a bolt from a book, take your pick), Idle Thoughts occurred to me. This build-around-me enchantment includes the text ": Draw a card," which would normally be massively broken. With Idle Thoughts, however, you must have an empty hand if you want to use the ability.

I wondered if there was a way I could use the Thoughts over and over, while somehow funneling the overflowing card draw to somewhere else. Lo and behold, the answer came in the form of Shared Fate. As long as your hand is empty, you can pay any number of times. For your purposes, your hand is what's removed from the game with Shared Fate, but Idle Thoughts doesn't have to know that.

Shared Fate
Idle Thoughts

Now, normally Shared Fate decks seek to win either via the opponent's cards, or Leveler (a brutal one-two punch with Shared Fate.) However, with Idle Thoughts now in the mix, we can do something different. We can use the Thoughts to "draw cards" (in actuality slowly removing your opponent's library from the game). Then just when your opponent's deck is to the point of being completely gone, sacrifice the two enchantments to Auratog, smack your opponent for 5 just for fun, then sit back and watch him draw from an empty library.

By filling the deck with seemingly useless cards like Auratog and Idle Thoughts, your opponent (under the Shared Fate) will have no answers at all. Meanwhile, you can keep wheeling through your opponent's library with the Thoughts. Oh, I need an empty hand? Phantatog (Auratogs 5-8) can help clear your grip, while Peace of Mind does the same while holding off any early attacks. By the time you drop the Thoughts and the Fate, you should be in the clear.

If something should go wrong, there's always the back-up plan of winning via your opponent's cards. The numerous Vivid lands and hybrid lands can help you appropriately play what could be off-color spells.

When building this deck, it was important to make sure that none of my spells could disrupt my permanents, so my opponent wouldn't have a way to stop me. Simple bounce, for example, wouldn't work as my opponent could use it against me. Counterspells and Walls were perfect, though: I don't plan on playing a single spell after the Thoughts, 'Tog, and Shared Fate are online, and I don't plan on attacking much at all. Basically, as long as your opponent doesn't have an answer in hand (and you can make sure with Peek), you're set to lock down the board.

A Cluttered Mind

Download Arena Decklist
Instant (8)
4 Peek 4 Mana Leak
Enchantment (8)
2 Peace of Mind 3 Idle Thoughts 3 Shared Fate
60 Cards

The deck is a little hard to grasp, and at first it's slow and stalls a lot. But when you get everything running, you basically have an engine that says ": Remove the top card of target opponent's library from the game." The first time I won with this deck was deliciously evil: With a Phantatog and Idle Thoughts in play, I drew, played my sixth land, and Peeked at my opponents hand to find anything troubling. Seeing nothing that could harm my position, I played Shared Fate and successfully locked my opponent out until he or she was decked. The Wish-board is there because I often lost to different kinds of decks, most notably an Empty the Warrens deck that stormed off the turn after I played the Shared Fate. (Note: make sure you play the Shared Fate last—otherwise you won't draw into your other pieces.)

The Candle Man Cometh

Rekindled Flame

If there's one thing I like about Rekindled Flame, it's the ever-so-creepy art. I don't know about you, but if a strain of the zombie virus was released inside a candle and wax museum, this is what I'd think of. It's... a... walking... candle-man. If House of Wax had these monsters as the villains instead of those annoying crazy guys, then it might actually be accepted in horror movie circles. Well, if House of Wax had better anything, then it might actually be watchable.

Looking past the art, Rekindled Flame is an efficient burn spell with the ability to rekindle itself to life. In contrast to Idle Thoughts, which requires you to have an empty hand, Rekindled Flame only comes back when your opponent's grip is out to lunch. The easy way to accomplish this is to use discard. In fact, Rekindled Flame seems like a great finisher to a dedicated red-black discard deck. My first deck list for it is straightforward and aggressive. Nothing truly important to explain here. Just make some Rats of the Ravenous Rats and Stronghold Rats variety, some Specters of the Needle Specter and Silent Specter variety, and round things off with some combat tricks and Necrogen Mists.


Download Arena Decklist

All right, I guess I'll briefly touch on some neat tricks in here. The Rats and Specters can help each other with Shared Animosity, which I've been meaning to use for a while. If you can land a Brute Force or two on the Needle Specter, your opponent will probably be chucking his or her hand after combat. Double Cleave works well when played on any creature in the deck.

This next deck's approach is totally different.

I started looking for cheap spells that could temporarily empty my opponent's hand, like an Ignorant Bliss that could target my opponent. Eventually I found one in Suppress, a card I'd never seen or heard of before. Intrigued, I thought, "What if, somehow, I could play Suppress on my opponent's turn! Then the hand wouldn't come back until the end of his or her next turn, giving me an upkeep to recur Rekindled Flame! Ha!" Vedalken Orrery was added to my growing list. Now I could play Suppress at the end of my opponent's turn and return Rekindled Flame to my hand during my upkeep, ready to be played.

The end result of all this jumping through hoops, though, was just another 4 damage. On top of that, I could not pretend to have a Suppress in my hand every turn. I was about to hang the idea up in the rafters of the lab with the other failed ideas, when suddenly the final jigsaw piece fell into place in the form of one of my favorite cards ever printed:

Spellweaver Helix

Spellweaver Helix.

With both Suppress and Rekindled Flame imprinted on the Helix and a Vedalken Orrery in play, play a second copy of the Flame at the end of your opponent's turn. The Helix will trigger and create a Suppress copy, removing the opponent's hand from the game. Then the Flame resolves and hits the graveyard. During your next upkeep, return the Flame to your hand and wait. At the end of your opponent's next turn, let Suppress's delayed trigger resolve, then play Rekindled Flame again to start the whole thing over.

Getting your sorceries into the graveyard for the Helix is easy enough. Suppress can be played normally to impede your opponent's progress, and Delirium Skeins can both fill your yard and help empty your opponent's hand. Flame Jab and Diabolic Tutor are great sorceries to imprint on the Helix, and Firespout just seems unfair when played at instant speed. With all the sorceries in the deck, I figured Magnivore would be right at home as a secondary finisher.

Hot off the Suppress

Download Arena Decklist

Be careful how you play this deck. Try to stabilize early with Firespouts and Flame Jab, and don't be afraid to use the Helix to reuse key spells.

Time's up for this week's foray into the lab. Now get out! Get out of my la-bor-a-tor-yyyyyyyyyyyy! Alright, I couldn't resist a Dexter reference. Until next week, have fun with mad scientists.

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